A winning culture is ‘the No. 1 goal’ for new Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon

GLENDALE, Ariz. — New Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon is doing his best imitation of Herm Edwards when it comes to preseason games, starting on Friday when his team hosts the Denver Broncos.

While NFL head coaches have shifted to holding out their frontline players and keeping them healthy for the regular season — focusing more on the development of back-end roster guys — Gannon said he’s playing to win his first game as a head coach.

“Every time you strap it up and go in between the white lines, you want to win the game,” Gannon said. “So, that’s always the No. 1 goal.”

Gannon’s statement makes sense, considering the Cardinals finished in the bottom of the NFC West at 4-13 last season. The Cardinals have posted a 5-18 record (including postseason) since bolting out to a 10-2 mark two years ago. Even worse, the Cardinals are 1-13 at home dating back to late October of the 2021 season. 

Gannon grumbled this past offseason when a reporter mentioned his team being in rebuilding mode, saying his sole focus is on winning football games. But Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort has done a good job of setting the table for this team to replenish an aging roster with young players down the road, with 11 picks in next year’s draft, including two first-round picks.

“This is why we’re here,” Ossenfort told reporters during training camp. “To field a competitive team, and go out there and try to win games.”

Gannon understands the need to start establishing the habit of winning games, and what better way to get that going than his first game as a coach against the Broncos?

He’s already made headway in creating a no-nonsense, detailed approach in the building with a focus on discipline and accountability.

“It’s been a culture shock, no gradual shift,” said Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries. “Either get with it or get gone. That’s JG (Jonathan Gannon). That’s it. You’ve met him. Either you’re going to be like that, or you’re going to go home. It’s that simple.”

Franchise quarterback Kyler Murray said he’s also noticed a change from the previous regime led by GM Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“A lot of it just comes down to accountability. The communication,” Murray said. “Not only that, but he knows football. He coaches it. Guys that already know football get even smarter. The guys that may not be on the same level as some guys that have played a lot of years, (whether it’s) Zach Ertz or a rookie, everyone’s getting smarter. He’s teaching football. He’s teaching scheme.”

Murray’s comments resonate when watching Gannon coach on the hoof. He is very hands-on when coaching on the field, quick to stop a play if he doesn’t see it being run correctly. He’ll bring a player over to the side in between plays for a quick teaching moment and his presence is felt throughout the practice.

Look, there’s no getting around that the Cardinals are the betting favorites to have the worst record in the NFL this season. With the Houston Texans’ first-round selection along with their own, the Cardinals could have two picks in the top five of the draft next season, allowing them to move on from Murray and select someone like USC quarterback Caleb Williams if the Cardinals do not believe the Oklahoma product is the long-term answer at the most important position on the field.

However, Gannon also must get buy-in from players currently on the roster. No one wants to believe their season is over before it already starts. And Gannon seems to have veteran players like Budda Baker, James Conner and Humphries believing that the Cardinals can compete on a weekly basis sooner rather than later.

“We don’t give a f— about outside perceptions of this team,” Humphries told reporters here during training camp. “I know I don’t, respectfully. That’s always been my personality.” 

Whether that results in wins on the field starts Friday.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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